I often wish we in Britain had a better understanding of the European Union and what it means to every single one of us. The one-sided view of the EU prevalent throughout British politics, the media and our general view of the world more often than not misrepresents what the EU and the European Parliament are about.
Since today is designated as Europe Day, it is very relevant to look at these matters at this time.
The public consultation just launched by European Commissioner Viviane Reding is one such case where it would really help those of us in Britain if we had a clearer understanding of the benefits conferred by membership of the European Union.
Since the Commission is asking people to tell them what obstacles they face in exercising their rights as EU citizens, the outcome of this consultation will be positive for many of us.
In common with most British people, you may well be asking, what rights. The problem is, to some extent, semantics. Both “citizens” and “rights” have connotations in the UK which are not always positive. We do not like to call ourselves citizens and many of us associate the idea of rights with an ideology we don’t like.
It’s therefore necessary to look at what “rights for EU citizens” actually means in practice. Firstly, these “rights” are in addition to, not instead of, what you have as a citizen of your own member state. The EU doesn’t overrule or take over whatever you are entitled to as a British citizen.
Following its EU citizenship report in 2010, the European Commission has already taken action to deliver the following:
- rights for the victims of crime, especially cross-border crime
- slashing red tape for those registering a car in another EU country
- banning extra credit card charges for online shoppers
- reinforcing rights to a fair trial
- clarifying property rights for international couples
The Commission now wants to know what other problems people face moving about the EU, whether for work or study, exercising the right to vote or with consumer issues. The consultation will end on 9 September this year.
The most cherished EU right is, of course, free movement across the Union. In case you are wondering, the additional rights you get as a result of Britain’s membership of the EU are:
- the right to vote in local and European elections in the EU country you live in even though it may not be where your nationality is registered
- the right to consular protection abroad under the same conditions as nationals of the country concerned
- the right to petition the European Parliament, complain to the European Ombudsman and to take part in the European Citizens’ Initiative.
During the European Year of Citizens in 2013 the Commission will publish a second EU citizenship report which will serve as an action plan for the removal of remaining obstacles that hinder people from fully utilising what comes to them as a result of membership of the European Union.